Teenagers who frequently use social media are at risk of becoming unhappy with their life as they age, latest research suggests.

Scientists from the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford and academics from the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour have found that girls between the age of 11 and 13, and boys aged 14 to 15 are most likely to feel dissatisfied with life after using social media.

In addition, the team of researchers detected the same pattern in 19-year-old males and females.

According to the academics, social media use during adolescence is connected to hormonal, brain and social changes that occur during teenage development.

Prior research has shown that social media is positive for teenagers as it helped them stay in contact with their peers during the coronavirus lockdowns.

Chief author Dr Amy Orben said: “The link between social media use and mental wellbeing was very complex, with studies so far showing mixed results.

“Changes within our bodies, such as brain development and puberty, and in our social circumstances appear to make us vulnerable at particular times our lives.”

She concluded: “We can now focus on the periods of adolescence where we know we might be most at risk and use this as a springboard to explore some really interesting questions.”

During the study, the team of scientists analysed questionnaire responses of around 72,000 individuals who were invited to share how happy there were with life and how often they use social media.

They found that adolescents between the age of 16 and 21 were the most dissatisfied with life after using social media sites.

Young teenagers were also dissatisfied with life after using social media for long periods of time, the research has found.

Additional factors can also influence how satisfied teenagers are with their life, including the content they see on social media and who they are communicating with, the study has revealed.

Fellow researcher Professor Bernadka Dubicka said: “This is an interesting study. It reflects the complexity seen in vulnerable adolescents in clinical practice, and finally moves away from the unhelpful dichotomy about whether social media is or isn’t harmful.

“This study only covers a period up to 2018 – since then, social media use has become ever more prominent in young people’s lives, particularly during the pandemic, and emotional difficulties, notably in older adolescent girls, have risen significantly.”

Professor Dubicka added: “It will be vital to build on this research to understand both the harmful as well as supportive role of social media in young people’s lives.”

The full analysis of the study is available in the journal Nature Communications.

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